Kivas in Chaco Canyon

Another perspective to explain the multitudes of kivas in Chaco Canyon is that there needed to be a specific clan host kiva for each and every clan that came to visit Chaco. It was critical that each clan contribute to their Chacoan kiva; possibly like an ambassador’s residence. Each clan could worship at Chaco, both in their private kivas, and in the grand scale Great Kivas, which offered the ability to host many clans simultaneously. Kivas, being round, were the perfect accommodation for circle dances. Circle dances may be the oldest of ceremonial formations that are known.

“Circle dancing accompanied with various shaken rattles and possibly basket drums is the oldest recognizable ceremonial activity. Such dancing was a part of war rituals, puberty celebrations, or fertility ceremonies.” (Brown 374).

These ceremonies could have been grand events worthy of Mardi Gras or Carnival, including masked dancers known as “kachinas” (or an early version of kachinas). Kachinas are spirit beings, usually of ancestors. Imagine a dramatic entrance by the clan leader from the underground tunnel, which we know is thought to be analogous to the emergence myth and that it represents the sipapu—a holy navel. The dramatic flair of these ceremonies was not underplayed. They all had purpose and were possibly the social events of the tribes and clans, as well.

In a tour guide discussion with G.B. Cornucopia, he discussed a corn planting ceremony that might have gone on in Ancient Chaco. In the corn planting ceremony, he says that children and adolescents were probably woken up in the middle of the night and brought to a kiva. A woman would be standing in the middle of the circle, and she would talk to them about last year’s crops and that this year should be better. She delivered a message of hope. And then, she would be surrounded by elders in the tribe and the children could hear her speaking and giving directions about how to plant for the next year. Next, a dramatic boom sounds out and—poof—a cloud of cornmeal smoke makes her disappear, because when the elders break the circle the woman is gone. All that is left is a basket of corn. Her voice is still heard as though she is a spirit of the corn; (Cornucopia CVB). Cornucopia says that playing out such a ceremony causes a more vivid realization. Just imagining it as you read it in these pages tends to bring it to life.

Not surprisingly, there is also disagreement about the nature of kiva ceremonies. There are some scholars who do not believe that the ceremonies that are practiced today necessarily shed any light on the past:

“I do not believe that the Chacoans held their rituals in hundreds upon hundreds of small, dark, smoky, and dangerous pits. Rather, evidence is continuing to emerge that they held their ceremonies on platform mounds and perhaps even pyramids, as did all highly organized Native American cultures during that time period.” (Fisher).

Fisher’s theory seems to indicate that they may have treated the trash middens located in front of the Great Houses as ceremonial mounds.

It seems that out of the entire Chaco puzzle, there is only one point of agreement, one similarity between disparities: the idea that Chaco was an epicenter for cultural rituals and ceremonies is probable, as it explains the roads, outside influences that are evident in food sources and items such as turquoise, and the vast number of dwellings.

What we know for certain is that Chaco was a cultural complex, likely an epicenter for cultural exchange, and that the Great Kivas play a great part. Ceremonies and rituals would have been the lifeblood of the Chacoan culture, as evidenced in the ritualistically motivated architecture and numerous ceremonial artifacts.